By Rev. Tim Massengale
Pastor Johnson smiled broadly and waved as Dave and Patti’s car pulled out of the church parking lot. Then, with a small sigh, he turned and walked back into the church. He could not help but feel a little apprehensive.
Dave and Patti were new converts. Both had been baptized and received the Holy Ghost during a revival about a month ago. This morning they had called and asked to meet with him at the church. They had some questions and were puzzled about several things they had heard from other members. Their questions had to do with holiness standards. He had answered them as best he could but he could tell they were not fully convinced. Carefully he had encouraged them to pray about the scripture he had shown them and to give the Spirit time to lead them into a better understanding. Afterwards they had prayed together. Dave and Patti said they felt better and both assured him that they would be in church Sunday. They expressed their love for the church and especially for the presence of God they felt during the services.
Pastor Johnson returned to his study and sat staring out the window, silently praying for this promising new couple. He asked the Lord for the wisdom to help them mature in the Lord. But so many converts had come in lately only to drift off after a few months. He could not help wonder if there wasn’t more that could be done.
Proactive New Convert Care
The above example is fairly common. Souls come in the front door and then frequently slip out the back. Often you will hear people say, “Well, they know the truth. If they want it they know where to find it. When they need God bad enough, they come home.” How sad! Too often we have come to accept a poor retention rate as inevitable. This should not be!
On the day of Pentecost over 3,120 new converts were born into the church that very first day. It had to be the work of the Holy Ghost to inspire the Apostles on how to establish these new Christians. The writer Luke records that after the three thousand were baptized, the new converts continued steadfastly in three areas (Acts 2:41-47): First, instruction (vs. 41, 42, & 46). Secondly, fellowship (vs. 42 & 46). And thirdly, a unity of involvement (vs. 44 & 45). Each of these are extremely critical to the growth of a new convert. If any of these three areas are neglected, the convert will struggle.
Around the turn of the century, the infant death rate was close to 10% – almost one tenth of the babies born in the world died the first few years. Infant diseases such as small pox, scarlet fever, influenza, and others took a heavy toll. Today, the death rate in America less than .04%. Why? Do mothers today love their babies more now then back then? No! The simple fact is, we have learned to care for newborns better. The same applies to the church. If we will learn to take better care of our new converts, we will see more solid, established Christians.
When an individual comes to our altars and receives the Holy Ghost or is baptized, they begin their new life much like a new born infant – very weak, very hungry, and very dependent upon their mother. They do not know how to live for God, how to pray, how to study the Word, or how to fight temptation. Someone must train them; someone must teach them – and that someone is us. If we abandon the newborn, it will not take long for them to die. You can be sure that the devil is going to do everything he can to make them stumble and fall. Somehow we must give them proper nourishment and provide the protection that will deter the devil’s attack. While there are many things that can be done to help strengthen a convert, one of the most important is what many call, ‘First Week Counseling.’
First Week Counseling
Research shows that most new Christians who backslide, do so within the first month – and many the very first week. The reason is that the devil will strongly attack the convert before they know his tactics or how to fight back. His attack usually begins the moment the convert leaves our services. Satan knows that the sooner he can cause them to stumble – and all new babies stumble when learning to walk – the better are his chances of getting them to give up and quit. We dare not let a new convert leave that service without putting something in their hands – both for strength and to defend themselves. For too long churches have used the “sink or swim” attitude once someone receives the Holy Ghost. Far too many are sinking. First Week Counseling can help prevent this.
First Week Counseling simply means that someone, usually the pastor or a trained assistant, calls the new convert the very next day and sets up an appointment to visit them that same week, usually in their home. The purpose of this visit is to teach a simple, short Bible study on the basic fundamentals of living for God. These are:
Your New Life. The convert needs to know what has just happened to him and how it fits into the new birth process. If they haven’t been baptized, baptism is explained. If they haven’t received the Holy Ghost, this is explained also. But what is mainly stressed is the “new beginning” that comes by being born again. This way we defeat a major tactic the devil uses against new converts: dragging up their past that’s now under the blood.
Three Essential Truths. The second topic is what many call the “three essential truths for new converts” – daily prayer, daily Bible reading and consistent church attendance. A convert needs to begin a daily prayer life immediately. The problem is, they often don’t know how to, or that they even need to, pray. To wait until lesson five of the new convert’s course to begin praying is too late. The same applies to the Word of God. They need to read their Bible daily, for this is their source of strength. But they don’t need to begin in Genesis, like the Bible was some kind of novel. They need to begin in the Gospels or the Book of Acts and read a chapter each day. They also need to know that every time the church doors are open to be there. The world’s concept of going to church is ‘Sunday morning only.’ Someone must tell them otherwise. These three basic truths – prayer, Bible study, and church – attendance are explained in a simple straightforward way. Often a handout is given that explains the basics of prayer, provides a beginning Bible reading chart, and also lists church service times.
The Devil’s Attack. We must warn the new convert that the devil will soon attack them. He may use family or friends to condemn their decision to live for God. He will try to make them stumble and sin. He will try to tempt them back into their old way of life. The new converts needs to be aware of this and be ready to defend themselves. And if by chance they do stumble and do something wrong – and all babies stumble while learning to walk – to get back up, tell the Lord they’re sorry, and try to never do it again. They need to know the Lord will forgive them. A favorite ploy of the devil is to tell the convert that, having stumbled, they are now forever lost – so they might as well quit. If someone doesn’t tell them otherwise, how will they know it’s a trick of Satan?
We Care. The last topic is very simple, yet so extremely important. The new convert needs to know “we are here, we care.” Many converts have no one close to talk to when they encounter problems because no immediate family is in church. Yet, they are often reluctant to call the pastor for fear they are imposing upon his time. So they battle alone and often fail. Someone needs to reassure them that they can call or come by any time. If we don’t come when the baby cries, the devil will! It is good to give them the pastor’s contact number, the assistant pastor’s, the new convert care director, and any others who can encourage them when they are down. Someone needs to be there. We must realize a new born baby is not like an adult – they must have much more personalized attention until they mature, and much more often.
In First Week Counseling these four subjects are only covered briefly. The objective is not to give them a comprehensive study, but rather to reveal a few basic principles and spark their hunger for more. More depth will be provided in each area by teaching a comprehensive new converts course at the church on Sunday morning. Every convert should be enrolled and strongly encouraged to attend.
It is also recommend that the pastor take a Bible Study night and teach a lesson entitled, “The Successful Christian Life” and expound on these and other important concepts of spiritual growth. But make sure you record it, because from then on every new convert should have this cassette tape or CD given to them the night they receive the Holy Ghost or are baptized.
In addition to the CD, many recommend giving the new Christian a new convert’s booklet. Several excellent examples are Victorious Living for New Christians (Kinzie), New Beginnings (Triplett), Growing With God (Alphin) and Ready Set Go (Cook). All can be purchased from the Pentecostal Publishing House.
End Time Harvest
This is First Week Counseling: a forty minute home visit, a booklet and a CD. Now they have some tools with which to fight the devil and spiritual nourishment with which to begin their walk with God. With this and other key methods, a church can see their retention rate increase to fifty, sixty, even seventy percent. Understand this well: God is not in the business of making backsliders. He does not want to send us a mighty revival only to have 90% backslide. But if we will prepare ourselves for a great end-time harvest of souls, and have a program in place to retain that great harvest, I believe that God will give it to us. Don’t you agree? So how ready are you?
If you would like more information on successful new convert care, call the Apostolic Information Service at 1-800-800-0247 and ask for “The Complete New Convert Care Program” by Tim Massengale. Cost is just $5.00.